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Thursday, May 28, 1998

Wayward Woody's dysfunctional 'Blues'

Movie: Wild Man Blues

Posted on Thu, May 28, 1998 at 4:00 AM

***
Our Rating: 3.00

A documentary about Woody Allen seems unnecessary. For years, the director has been marketing his life story under the thin guise of fiction. A simple profile of the Woodman's jazz band may have seemed a novel take on the idea, but director Barbara Kopple's unprecedented access to the reclusive comedian has instead resulted in a portrait of dysfunctionality that's unequaled in Allen's own work.

Kopple is obviously disinterested in her film's alleged raison d'etre -- the rare concert tour that brought Allen's decades-long musical hobby to the attention of European audiences. She shoots the performance footage in a lazy, static fashion, rarely varying the camera's angle and barely attempting to mimic the music's jaunty motion. What's left is nearly as visually mundane as the stark, black-and-white end titles of most of Allen's films, and as musically redundant to all but the most learned in the ways of New Orleans' jazz.

Kopple is after a close-up of the most twisted show-business love story since Jerry Lee Lewis. "The infamous Soon-Yi Previn" (as Allen introduces her) is far from the compliant flower we might expect. She's a controlling, jaded child-woman who appears to run every minute of her senior lover's life, from supervising his diet and exercise regimen to making him trade breakfasts when hers is unsatisfactory. In between, she expresses blithe disinterest in her husband's filmed oeuvre. She behaves like a spoiled brat who believes that affected cynicism is the best way to approximate adulthood.

The film's climax is a luncheon visit with Allen's parents, who are less than bowled over by their son's life and work. Allen baits them by asking what they think of his involvement with an Asian woman. His mother unflinchingly replies that she'd have preferred it if Woody had settled down with a nice Jewish girl.

Take heart, Mrs. Konigsberg. After viewing "Wild Man Blues," you can console yourself that your sometimes wayward son has nonetheless fulfilled your every dream, and come as close to marrying you as the law allowed.

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